Hundreds gathered in Northwest D.C. on Wednesday for a morning rally that was the first leg of a day of events culminating with a speech by President Obama at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Participants gathered outside the Georgetown Law Center on New Jersey Avenue at around 8 a.m. for the 1.6-mile march, which began at 9 a.m.
The group was led by veterans of the original event in 1963. Participants, many of whom held handmade signs, were met by onlookers who came out of buildings and stopped to take photos and greet them, while police on horseback accompanied them and closed streets as they passed.
“It’s an awesome turnout,” said Van White, a Rochester, N.Y., attorney who organized the event. “You know with the rain and people were anxious about making sure they got to see the president, there was that tension.”
Watching the march unfold, 50-year-old Artra Watkins got emotional.
“It’s just knowing the price that people had to pay,” the Philadelphia resident said as she dabbed tears. Ms Watkins recalled stories her mother and grandmother told her about the oppression and discrimination they endured growing up in southern Georgia. The resolve that the original marchers had to go forward with their plans in the face of such pressures inspired her, she said.
“Between that and what happened with Trayvon Martin is why I decided to come,” she said. “We can’t go back.”
Marchers were expected to pass sites relevant to the civil rights movement — including the headquarters of the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor as well as the federal courthouse in the District — before heading to the Lincoln Memorial.
Along with the marchers, tens of thousands of people later in the day were expected to converge on the Mall, where Mr. Obama was scheduled to address the crowd on the spot the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago before one of the largest civil rights rallies in U.S. history.
The “Let Freedom Ring” commemoration is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. and features a lengthy guest list of civil rights leaders and celebrities. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are scheduled to speak, while actor Hill Harper and broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien are set to host the roughly four-hour event.
Other guests include actress and talk show host Oprah Winfrey; actors Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker; musicians Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, who performed with Mary Travers at the original march in 1963; and members of the King family.
Security was expected to be tight for that event, organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, with the general public directed to enter via one security checkpoint heading west on 17th Street north of the World War II Memorial. Gates opened at 9 a.m. to large crowds.